Sweet Relief

Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe not…

Shortly after my “surrender” and reading Bernie’s book, I started feeling a little better. The intense nausea let up, and my perpetual fever finally broke. But I still felt queasy and bloated, and I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed—much less leave the house.

I knew I needed help, but I wasn’t sure where to go. I’d already been to fourteen MDs, gastroenterologists, and other specialists, and I couldn’t stomach any more tests and medications.

Just then, Mom heard about a doctor who did a special kind of blood test that sounded very intriguing. She said it was some kind of “alternative medicine.” It didn’t take long before I knew I needed to check this out.

And for the first time ever, I chose to go to the doctor.

A closer look

After an hour-and-a-half drive, Mom and I arrived at Dr. McCormick’s office, which was unlike any medical clinic I’d ever been to. Everyone wore normal clothes, and there wasn’t even a hint of barium or sanitizers in the air.

Soon, Dr. McCormick greeted us with a smile and led us into a sparsely decorated room with a television and the biggest microscope I’d ever seen. He spoke in a calm, reassuring tone as he squeezed a small drop of blood from my fingertip onto a glass slide. And then he carefully placed it into the microscope.

Moments later, the sample appeared on the TV screen in front of me.

I didn’t know much about blood, but it was obvious something wasn’t right. My red blood cells were misshapen and clumped together, barely moving. Dr. McCormick pointed out a solo white blood cell in the corner of the slide and one more that looked like it was disintegrating—a far cry from the amount needed to protect me.

The most lively organism in the sample wasn’t even supposed to be there. White globules were scattered throughout the entire screen, wedged into the clusters of stagnant cells, which he referred to as yeast or candida.

Dr. McCormick explained how candida overgrowth can lead to all sorts of health issues, including immunological and digestive. He said this may not be the root of the problem, but we needed to “peel the onion” and clear this up to help support my body’s healing process. I’d never heard a doctor talk about my body’s own healing process (aside from the book I’d just read), but it made a lot of sense.

As we got ready to leave, Dr. McCormick’s assistant handed me a pink sheet of paper with “CANDIDIASIS” typed in all caps at the top.

The words “overuse of antibiotics” and “excessive sugar intake” jumped off the page as I read about the causes of this common infection. I thought back to the double round of antibiotics I was given when I first got sick, but more than anything, I realized just how much of an impact my diet had on my health.

The diet debacle

I enjoyed my fair share of sweets growing up, but for the most part, meals were pretty wholesome. We had a garden in the summer, put up a few things for the winter, and the bulk of our meals came from wild game and freshwater fish.

But as I got older, I started reaching for sweet food more frequently as a source of comfort and distraction. Soda and candy bars were never far from reach, and I could polish off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s faster than you could say, “New York Super Fudge Chunk.”

To top things off, when I was sixteen, my father and stepmother opened a restaurant, where I worked full-time in the summer. We served pizza, burgers, fries, and other common take-out fare, but our specialty was the “grinder” sandwich—processed meat and cheese on doughy white bread so thick, you could barely get your jaw around it.

I ate something off the menu at least once a day. Sometimes two or three.

I couldn’t handle eating rich, heavy food anymore, but even my “easy on the belly” meals were almost all made of the same thing: white flour and sugar (especially my most recent additions of cinnamon raisin bread, grape juice, and popsicles).

You can imagine my shock as I read further down the pink paper…


1. Avoid refined sugar, including sucrose and fructose.
2. Limit your intake of fresh fruit to one serving per day. No apples or grapes.
3. Avoid canned food.
4. Avoid milk and its products, except for butter and a small portion of plain yogurt.
5. Limit your servings of wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, rice, millet, and potatoes to about one-half to one cup per day.
6. No yeasts or molds. This would include no cheese, mushrooms, vinegar, or vinegar products (catsup, pickles, etc.).

And the list went on…

I felt stunned and overwhelmed, but I was willing to do anything to feel better.

Thankfully, Mom was willing to help me with the shopping and cooking since I still couldn’t be on my feet for very long. She even followed the diet with me for her own health issues. We became a team, cheering each other on as we explored a whole new way of eating.

I remember the odd squishy texture of brown rice and how everything tasted like cardboard at first. But the more I ate it, the more my taste buds started craving the simple flavors of natural whole foods.

Within a couple of weeks, something monumental happened. Instead of lying down on the couch between meals like I normally did, I sat upright. I still remember Mom’s face as she caught a glimpse of me from the kitchen. Her eyes lit up with surprise and excitement—as if she was watching me sit up for the first time.

We all knew it at that moment. I was getting better!

I still had trouble digesting meat and dairy, so Mom bought me a vegetarian cookbook and drove an hour and a half (each way) to buy tofu, tempeh, hummus, and other foods we’d never heard of before. We also juiced everything in sight. Our local grocery store special ordered carrots in industrial-size bags, which made my elbows and palms turn orange.

I only needed to follow that “anti-candida” diet for 60 days, but I felt so much better that I didn’t want to stop—at least not entirely. Choosing wholesome food didn’t feel like restriction to me. It felt like freedom.

That’s me about eight months after changing my diet and my mind (March 1994).

As my appetite increased, so did my hunger to learn more. I began reading about food and nutrition, along with my newly discovered books on spiritual and emotional healing. Most of all, I was interested in the connection between what we eat and how we feel.

My lifelong dream of becoming a hairstylist had faded away and was replaced with something I never imagined. I started dreaming about going to college and studying nutrition formally. I didn’t have the grades to be accepted into a degree program (more on that later), but my desire to learn was so strong that I didn’t want to give up hope. 

But just as I was starting to feel better, things got a lot more complicated…

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14 Responses

  1. I’m awaiting the next chapter in the life of an amazing young woman I met many years ago. This woman was the absolute picture of health; physically spiritually, emotionally…and she was the kindest most compassionate soul. She was also a skilled Oriental physician and accupuncturist. I learned so much about the power of nourishing food from her. She had shared that she’d struggled with a health concern earlier in her life. It seemed hard to imagine given she is so bursting with light and vitality that Guy snd I always called her our wood nymph fairie…she remains a dear friend although it’s been many years since a visit. I agree this beautiful evolving story needs to be shared in a collective of recipes, images, ideas….

    1. Wow, who’s that? ;) Thank you so much, June. That means more to me than I can say. You and Guy have made quite an impact on me too with your generosity, compassion, humor, and HUGE hearts. And if I ever do get that cookbook out into the word, Guy’s boat rockin’ fish bake will have a special place in it. :)❤️

  2. fascinating story and they nailed it – it needs a cook book to go along with it. THanks for sharing this story and yes more should read it too. I have learned lots from you and will do it more as well. love M

  3. Sharon, you are writing about yourself beautifully. Thank you for the “chapters” of your life as I can more easily digest all of what you went through, and accomplished, by getting it in small bites.

  4. I love that picture! It says it all about your journey. Turning that significant corner is so encouraging. Even with more hurdles ahead. Thank you for sharing your story. You are a light in the darkness for all of us.

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Hey there.

This post is part of a series called “Peeling the Onion” about my adventures healing from life-threatening digestive issues.

To view the full story, click here.